Welcome to our “Untraining Your Pet” series, where we help you “untrain” your pet from those naughty or annoying bad habits and get them back to being the goodest boys and girls.
It probably started with those big eyes staring at you forlornly. Maybe there was even a little whimper, so you innocently tossed a scrap of food or a treat your dog’s way. We get it — that’s hard to resist. But it takes just that one time of giving in for your dog to learn that begging behaviors get rewarded. And then it becomes an expectation at every meal. If your family (and your visitors) are ready to eat meals in peace, here are some tips for breaking your dog’s begging habit.
The Problem with Begging
It starts off as cute, but begging can lead to behavioral problems (e.g., drooling on guests at your dining room table) as well as health issues. Feeding certain table scraps (e.g., rich, fatty food) can cause an upset stomach, and many human foods are toxic for dogs. Additionally, the extra calories from table scraps can quickly add on extra pounds that can lead to weight-related health issues for your dog.
Once you decide to tackle the begging problem, you (and everyone else) need to stick to your decision. If you give in to your dog’s begging some times but not others, your expectations are confusing for them. And that only encourages them to keep begging because they know that eventually you’ll give in. So once you decide to stop rewarding your dog’s begging behavior, you need to be consistent with your response.
Begging for Attention, Not Food
If your dog is begging while you’re preparing or eating a meal, it’s because they want the food, right? Actually, no. Often your dog just wants your attention, and they’re not getting it while you’re concentrating on making or eating your food. For these dogs, getting food in return for begging is a bonus — they got your attention and they got some snacks out of it, too.
If you think your dog is in the attention-seeking category, not the food-seeking category, try taking them for a walk or starting a big play session before dinner. Then provide them with a food puzzle or their favorite toy — away from where you are. That way you’re showing them lots of love and attention that will hopefully satisfy them temporarily, and you’re also keeping them distracted while you’re eating.
If your dog’s begging is truly about food rather than attention, you can try feeding them smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This will hopefully keep them feeling full longer and less likely to ask for (or steal) food at your mealtimes.
Begging Dog? What Begging Dog?
It’s the hardest thing to do, but the best way to teach your dog to stop begging is to ignore the behavior. Don’t look at them, don’t speak to them — basically pretend your dog is in a different room. Yes, you’re probably going to feel some tugging at your heart strings when your dog’s whines and cries become more insistent as you continue to ignore them. But soon they will get the hint that those behaviors are no longer the golden ticket to tasty treats. Instead you can reward good behaviors, like if they stop begging and go sit quietly away from the table.
When Both of You Can’t Resist
If you really, really tried but just have to give in to your dog’s begging, make sure you use dog-safe treats or snacks. Don’t just give them table scraps off your plate, because, as we mentioned earlier, this can lead to health issues. Have some dog-specific treats on hand and use those instead (in moderation, of course).
With some training, perseverance and “tough love,” eventually your dog will learn that begging is not the way to get attention or a snack. And your family and visitors can enjoy their meals without being stared at (or drooled on!).
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